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Ag-Gag Bills Defeated

[ 9 ] July 31, 2013 |

In just about the only good thing for progressives in this year’s horror film of state legislation, all 11 ag-gag bills were defeated. Attempts by agribusiness to criminalize anyone taking footage of their operations went down to defeat. However, I am extremely pessimistic that we will repeat such a record in 2014. After all, North Carolina will continue on its road to become America’s worst state and I have no confidence that lovely state legislature would reject such a bill twice.

Where Have All the Jobs Gone?

[ 119 ] July 30, 2013 |

Overseas, quite decisively.

The above chart measures percentage growth in employment from U.S. multinational corporations both in the U.S. and abroad.

Worldwide employment by U.S. multinational companies (MNCs) increased 1.5 percent in 2011 to 34.5 million workers, with the increase primarily reflecting increases abroad. In the United States, employment by U.S. parent companies increased 0.1 percent to 22.9 million workers, compared with a 1.8 percent increase in total private industry employment in the United States. The total employment by U.S. parents accounted for roughly one-fifth of total U.S. employment in private industries. Abroad, employment by majority-owned foreign affiliates of U.S. MNCs increased 4.4 percent to 11.7 million workers.

U.S. multinationals accounted for 20.9% of U.S. private sector payrolls in 2011, 21.8% in 1989. Yet from 1989 to 2011, U.S. MNCs decreased their employment in the United States by 3.3 million workers while expanding employment abroad by 6,5 million employees. The share of employment by MNCs in the United States went from 79% of their total employees in 1989 to 66.3% by 2011. Multinational corporations are clearly doing their hiring abroad.

This is why I don’t understand why so many people still think the current economic doldrums is just a product of the banking/housing crisis and a poor government response to it. These are permanent changes in the economy. There simply are not stable jobs for Americans anymore. Extreme capital mobility has shifted more and more jobs overseas. At first this was just manufacturing, now it is lower level law positions and middle management. What jobs that haven’t been moved are in the process of being mechanized to the point that the jobs won’t exist any longer (such as professors and MOOCs). People’s blind faith in capitalism’s ultimate beneficence to the American people have blinded themselves to the reality of 21st century America–a land increasingly without steady work or meaningful job creation, unless you are in the corporate elite.

More Farina

[ 5 ] July 30, 2013 |

An outstanding obituary of the great Dennis Farina by Alex Pappademas. Farina is one of those people who had a fairly minor career in the big scheme of things, but who affected so many people and who everyone loves and misses dearly upon their death.

Time to Draw the Line

[ 92 ] July 30, 2013 |

I think it’s time we draw a line in the sand on hipsterdom. This, from the Oregon Brewers Festival:

Perhaps you’ve heard the tale already. Rogue Ales brewmaster John Maier discovered that the wild yeast growing in his beard could be cultivated to a state suitable for fermenting beer. So that’s exactly what he did. Thirsty yet? If you manage to get past the mental block that goes with drinking an ale with human beard yeast in it, you’ll find a very fruity beer that smells and tastes of ripe bananas and pineapple. Gimmicky? You betcha. Successful? Absolutely.


Look, I like weird beer. And I have beard envy, being unable to grow one. But at some point, one must draw a line in the sand to protect civilization. I mean, I thought that gross Maple Bacon Porter put Rogue over the top. But beard yeast? From the brewmater’s beard? Please excuse me while I vomit.

San Francisco Bleg

[ 140 ] July 30, 2013 |

Since SEK got so many good tips on his travel post, let me ask you all for some advice. Later this week, I have a 5 hour layover in San Francisco. After taking BART from the airport and needing to get back with enough time to board my flight, I figure we are talking 2-2 1/2 hours in the city. I don’t know San Francisco all that well, but I’ve been twice. My wife has never been there. This layover is in the evening, so dinner and a drink is in order, as well as perhaps a touch of walking around in a cool neighborhood or by the water.

What would you suggest I do to make the most of my time in San Francisco?

Rheeism=Pure Objectivity

[ 59 ] July 30, 2013 |

What a surprise that those supposedly “measuring” school success change their data for political convenience.

Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

Why, it’s almost as if school reformers care more about pushing Republican policy points than helping children! Surely those scoundrels at the American Federation of Teachers are at the bottom of this! In fact, teachers did lead a campaign to defeat Bennett, who was rewarded for his failure by getting a sweet job doing the same thing in Florida.

God Certainly Wouldn’t Want Virginia to End Up Like Mexico

[ 16 ] July 30, 2013 |

The Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 29, 1863, arguing that God would not allow the South to become like Mexico:

The convulsion which is to cause a permanent disruption of the Federal Government and its division into Governments, embracing smaller areas of territory, is a Providential event. Its purpose is to adapt this immense country to the condition of things which has been so greatly changed since the formation of the Federal Government. It cannot be defeated or much delayed in its course.

Such a vast country, inhabited by a civilized and enlightened people, cannot be controlled by one Government. It was easy, and indeed mutually advantageous to the old thirteen States in their infantile and feeble condition to join in a confederacy for limited purposes and common interests. But in their present populous condition, with conflicting and hostile sectional and social interests and feelings, which have been developed and strengthened as rapidly as the population itself, it would be impossible to hold them together by any means short of a force superior to the spirit and power which resists the union and struggles for separation. It is not probable — nay, we say possible — that so much force can be brought to resist the inevitable disintegration from these causes. Could it be, the States held by force would no longer be free States, and the Government that ruled them would of necessity be despotic. This would not be all. The subjugated States would soon degenerate, and society in them cease to be what it is. Ruined in their wealth and agriculture — ceasing to be the producers of staple exports, their people would have neither energy nor spirit, and in the scale of civilization would in time come to a level with the Mexicans.

Turns out God, if such a thing exists, might not have taken too kindly with your treason in defense of slavery ideology after all. Mexico it is! If Eric Cantor and Ken Cuccinelli aren’t wearing somberos and drinking tequila by tomorrow night, I might think Confederate newspaper editors might have been a bit full of themselves.

Be Safe. Live in Cities

[ 99 ] July 30, 2013 |

Despite our national culture of fearing cities and creating myths about rural America being the Heartland and such, living in a city is far safer than living in the countryside.

Would be interesting to see a comparison of suburbs to inner cities.

Ho Chi Minh and America

[ 80 ] July 29, 2013 |

Last week, Barack Obama had a meeting with Vietnamese president Truong Tan Sang. After the meeting, Obama had some remarks about the relationship between Ho Chi Minh and American history:

At the conclusion of the meeting, President Sang shared with me a copy of a letter sent by Ho Chi Minh to Harry Truman. And we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson. Ho Chi Minh talks about his interest in cooperation with the United States. And President Sang indicated that even if it’s 67 years later, it’s good that we’re still making progress.

All true. But conservatives are flipping out that the Kenyan Usurper supports Vietnamese communism, which they already knew anyway.

Several conservative media outlets blasted the president on similar terms. “Obama may have just been trying to flatter his guest who was obviously eager to show that Ho was not the monster history shows him to be,” Chris Stirewalt, digital politics editor for Fox News wrote. “But his connection between the American founders and Ho shows either a massive lack of historical knowledge on the part of the president or a remarkable degree of moral flexibility.” (The Drudge Report quickly picked up the Fox piece.) The headline at read, “Obama Praises Communist Dictator & American Enemy Ho Chi Minh.” And so on and so forth.

Hilarious stuff. But Ho’s history with the United States goes back well before 1945, when Ho appealed to the U.S. for help against French colonialism at the close of World War II. In 1919, Ho Chi Minh was a 29-year old Vietnamese nationalist living in Paris. Like nationalists across the colonized world, Ho was inspired by the words of Woodrow Wilson around national self-determination. Ho already had a positive view of America’s revolutionary history and hoped he could enlist Wilson in the Vietnamese cause. He was not alone. Nationalists in Africa, China, and India also held onto Wilson’s words as a great promise. Of course what none of these people knew was that Wilson was a white supremacist and colonialist and that his vision of self-determination existed solely for European white people. Ho tried to meet with Wilson, but the president of course refused and gave America’s support to French colonialism in Asia. When Wilson failed to live up to the promise that Ho and others had projected upon him, they turned to the alternative of the Soviet Union. But in 1919, this was a decidedly second choice. Not only was the USSR weak, divided, and in the middle of a raging civil war, but the nationalists from colonized countries preferred U.S. help because of the vision of freedom and democracy it represented. Unfortunately, American rhetoric has never lived up to reality, especially when it comes to nations of brown people. The Haitians were inspired by the American Revolution and the U.S. isolated it after it kicked out the French. The nations of Latin America were inspired by the American Revolution and we know how the U.S. have treated those nations throughout the post-1821 years.

So in thinking about Ho’s relationship with the United States, it’s a story not only of his, perhaps idealized, vision of the United States, but of the failed opportunities of American foreign policy to reject colonialism after both World War I and World War II and create positive relationships with developing nations. I’m not saying this was a particularly realistic stance for the United States to take in 1919 (although it was in 1946), but in the history of mistakes with bad consequences, blowing off Ho Chi Minh has to be pretty high.

Fast Food Strike

[ 87 ] July 29, 2013 |

Read Josh Eidelson’s piece on fast food strikes. Fast food workers in seven cities will engage in one-day strikes over the next 4 days, starting with New York today. Among other things, they are arguing for a hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Eidelson includes a lot of good stories from workers about their struggles. I want to focus on his larger implications though:

Whether workers can transform that industry – rather than just hoping to rise within in – has big implications for labor’s future. First, because fast food jobs are increasingly representative of US work: poor compensation, little job security, a constant expectation to put on a happy face for customers, and virtually no unions.

And second, because – following a decades-long economic, judicial, and political attack – the campaign’s strategy represents some of the ways organizers are attempting to break free from a strategic box labor’s been left in to die. Among them: Given the law’s failure to meaningfully compel companies to bargain collectively even when workers want to, and the limits of slick anti-corporate P.R. campaigns that don’t deeply involve workers, some low-wage non-union workers are taking up the strike. Facing changes that have made strikes more risky and less effective, they’re mounting short-term strikes by a minority of the workforce designed to ignite further activism, embarrass management, and engage the public, while reducing (but not eliminating) the risk the workers will lose their jobs.

Those strikes anchor and amplify a range of other comprehensive campaign efforts, from criminal charges filed by Seattle workers over alleged “wage theft,” to a full-court media press to embarrass McDonald’s over the budget calculator it offered its low-wage workers. Jonathan Westin, who directs New York’s Fast Food Forward campaign, told Salon he doubts that national TV outlets would have lingered on the budget story if workers hadn’t forced a debate about the industry by repeatedly going on strike. “The more and more workers continue to take action and continue to publicize their fight,” said Westin, “the more and more it starts to get at the fast food industry’s biggest asset, which is their name brand. And I think that’s what we’re beginning to see in a very real way.”


I am significantly less optimistic about the ability of these strikes to transform the labor movement. Wasn’t Wisconsin supposed to bring collective bargaining rights back into the public conversation? Didn’t Occupy have the potential to usher in a new workers’ movement? Wasn’t the WTO protests in Seattle the beginning of a new era of environmentalists and labor working together? You can find a lot of articles from the time saying all of these things.

It’s a positive development, no doubt. But I’d really need to see some concrete results before thinking that a few workers engaging in one-day strikes across the country has much meaning to the nation as a whole.

Still, you never know what spark is going to change the world. These strikes are wholly positive and eventually my pessimism will be shown incorrect. Or at least I hope it will.

That doesn’t mean the fast food strikes are not beginning to scare companies though. The Employment Policies Institute ran this full-page ad (PDF) in today’s issue of USA Today to attack the idea of raising the minimum wage. What made me laugh about it was the text suggesting that a higher minimum wage would force employers to replace workers with machines, which they are already doing anyway. This is the minimum wage version of environmental job blackmail, when employers look to scare workers by saying that environmentalists will steal the jobs that employers are already planning to eliminate. Of course, the companies aren’t ready to replace all their workers with machines yet and so a $15 minimum wage does scare them enough to advertise in national newspapers.

The Death of Sherwood Anderson

[ 51 ] July 29, 2013 |

I just finished re-reading Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio for the first time in many years. While I’ve been in Mexico, I’ve reacquainted myself with the literature of the Gilded Age, largely because I am using the Kindle feature on my ipad for the first time and so I didn’t want to invest in newer books until I knew I liked it. It’s been a useful exercise. Read Great Expectations for the first time since high school. Read A Doll’s House for the first time. Same with Wister’s The Virginian (a very silly novel but useful for me as a teacher of the period). Found Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham fascinating in the first time I’ve read it since college. Total Gilded Age fantasy that capitalists wanted to tell themselves about making moral decisions when everyone else (including themselves) were swindling as many people as they could. Some other good stuff as well. So it’s been great. But reading Winesburg, Ohio again was like a slap in the face. What a brilliant piece of literature. So true and direct. Talking about sex and loneliness and obsession in a real, straightforward way that previous American authors really couldn’t do.

Anyway, I was reading Anderson’s Wikipedia page and came across this, a truly unfortunate way to die:

Anderson died on March 8, 1941, at the age of 64, taken ill during a cruise to South America. He had been feeling abdominal discomfort for a few days, which was later diagnosed as peritonitis. Anderson and his wife disembarked from the cruise liner Santa Lucia and went to the hospital in Colón, Panama, where he died on March 8. An autopsy revealed he had accidentally swallowed a toothpick, which had damaged his internal organs and promoted infection. He was thought to have swallowed it in the course of eating the olive of a martini or hors d’oeuvres.

I’m not sure how one swallows the toothpick off a martini olive unless you were very drunk, which is always possible. That’s a pretty tough way to go. I mean, I don’t mind too many martinis killing me, but I’d prefer the slow death of liver destruction to puncturing my innards with a bloody toothpick. Let’s at least hope the olive was good.

Also, I feel there’s a non-zero chance that this is the way Farley will go out.

Supporting the Dream Act 9

[ 124 ] July 29, 2013 |

I’ve spent July in southern Mexico. The region today is defined by immigration. Traveling to one of the towns my wife studies, way up in the Mixteca, an indigenous and mountainous area about five hours from the state capital of Oaxaca, we were talking to her friends and their families, as it was the town’s feast day. These families are completely torn apart by immigration. One of her friends is the youngest of 10 children. He stayed in Mexico and is making a go of it as an artist and photographer. The other 9 are all either in the U.S. or have spent a long time there. He was opening an exhibit. Of his 9 siblings, 2 made it back for it. I assumed most of the rest were undocumented and of course can’t come back except at major risk. Nothing about his family was exceptional. These towns are completely devoid of young men and some of young women as well. There are old people and some children and a few in between who are still trying to make a living farming or in the towns. These are good, solid, hard-working people, the same as people around the world. Yet the United States treats them like criminals.

The actions of undocumented immigration activists to bring attention to these problems are so brave. The 9 activists who crossed the border in protest and then recrossed in order to get arrested are amazing. They are asking to be allowed to remain in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds. Unless they get a special exception, they probably are going to lose. For many undocumented people who get deported, they don’t even know the country of their birth. If they are 19, have they been to Guatemala or El Salvador or Mexico since they were 2? For some, no. They might not even speak Spanish well. To President Obama’s credit, he’s trying to change the system to some degree through immigration reform. But thanks to Republican racism, it isn’t going to happen. On the other hand, Obama has led the largest deportation of immigrants in American history.

The 9 activists are on a hunger strike to bring attention to their cause. They need our support and I urge you to pay attention to the case.